Growing up with a stutter meant a difficult childhood and teenage years for Oliver Schofield-Robinson, who struggled to accept his condition and tried to hide it from the outside world.
But now, at the age of 26, Oliver feels he is finally able to begin living the life he always wanted as a result of an intensive course helping him to live with his stutter.
The Lancaster University history graduate now hopes to join the police force – something he would never previously have dreamed possible.
Like many people with a stutter, Oliver has been affected since he was able to speak.
“Throughout most of my life so far, and certainly most of my childhood, it was a real hindrance in every aspect of my life,” he said.
“It really held me back both professionally and personally. That’s the way of lot of people who have a stutter feel about it.
“It’s as if you are not able to unlock your own potential and be the person you think you can be because this stutter is constantly holding you back.”
Stutterers largely fall into two categories – covert and overt – with Oliver being a covert stutterer.
“With covert it’s harder to deal with because they are quite good at concealing it,” he said. “With overt you can tell they have a stutter.
“For me and many others it tends to be hidden using tricks and avoidance mechanisms.
“If I saw I was going to stutter in a situation then I would either avoid the situation completely and not engage in conversation or I would do ridiculous things like slapping my leg or changing the sentence completely into something I could say.
“I think for anyone who has a stutter, they will understand the feeling of not only fear but also of a sense of self hate and shame, because they are avoiding situations and not allowing themselves to develop fully.”
As Oliver grew up, he was taken to see various speech therapists, but never managed to improve his speech.
“I could never quite get with what they were trying to teach me,” he said. “I think that applies to quite a lot of people.
“I used to have to get my friends to order a coffee for me; that would now be unthinkable.
“For me it was more the personal side of things that it affected most.
“It never really held me back in terms of my achievements in school but it prevented me from perhaps making as many friends.
“Talking to girls was a massive problem, and if I was invited to social situations, invariably I would say no because I knew it would involve speaking to strangers and that was petrifying.
“That’s a common theme among other people that stutter. It gives you a sense of isolation growing up.
Oliver, who has lived in the Lancaster area most of his life and went to Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale, first heard about the McGuire Programme a few years ago.
“My mum saw a documentary on TV about it, but initially I was really reluctant to enquire, mostly because I have always been quite reluctant to ask for help,” he said.
“I always thought that my stutter was the kind of thing I had to fix myself.
“But it became apparent as time went on that it wasn’t something I could handle by myself, and it was only really when I joined the McGuire Programme that I really started to take control of my speech and my life.”
And so 18 months ago, Oliver attended a four-day course in London.
“The programme itself is unique,” he said. “It’s an international programme with courses all over the UK, and there’s normally a number of new students as well as graduates of the course returning to work on their speech.
“It’s four days of intense and extremely supportive one-to-one and group sessions where they address your stammer from a physical standpoint – teaching you techniques to combat the physical side of your stutter, and more importantly addressing the psychological side of it and the sense of being ashamed of who you are, and trying to hide who you are.
“Initially it’s about coming to terms with your stutter, and taking ownership of it, and going out of your way to tell people you have a stutter, because if you can be open and honest it’s amazing how much that clears the air.
“The most important thing is that you know that everyone in that room has been where you are because they have all had a stutter; it’s the ultimate comfort zone.”
Oliver said it helps that everyone involved in the programme has also got a stutter themselves.
“There’s no one who is part of the programme who hasn’t got a stutter,” he said.
“It’s a lifelong project,” he said. “Having a stutter isn’t a medical condition, it’s a psychological conditioning, and as such there’s no cure.
“There’s no real consensus on what causes a stutter, it’s just a deeply engrained psychological turmoil which occurs in childhood and takes such a hold that it physically manifests itself – it almost feels like a disease.
“But some people on the programme have been working on their speech for that long that when speaking to them you wouldn’t think they have a stutter unless they chose to show you.
“Once you get past the initial stage of talking it becomes more like learning a sport or musical instrument, it’s continuous improvement.
“It just reinforces the techniques and your psychological strengths.”
Since his first course, Oliver has returned six times, and has now been asked to become a coach himself.
“I want to help as many people who are in the position that I was in as possible,” he said.
“If I had spoken to someone who stuttered when I was in school going through a really tough time, and they had told me they used to be in my position and had come so far, it would really have given me hope.
“The programme has transformed my life, and I can’t be grateful enough, because it’s enabled me to be the person that I knew I could be.”
The McGuire Programme: Changing lives since 1994
In 1994 at the age of 45, after a lifetime of dealing with the debilitating effects of a severe stammer, Dave McGuire developed a method based on breathing done by many opera singers (called “Costal Breathing”) and a traditional psychological approach known as ‘non-avoidance’.
From this, more components, such as sports psychology and ways to counteract the freezing, struggle and distortion (and accompanying tricks and avoidance), were added to refine this physical and mental/emotional approach resulting in a profound improvement in Dave’s own speech.
Soon, the word was out that there was something new and effective available, and those seeking an answer made the trip to Dave’s home in Holland for his four-day course.
Those successful with this new approach would go back to their own countries telling their stories to radio and newspapers.
Before the end of the year, Dave was getting phone calls saying “There are 10 people here who would like to give this a try! Why don’t you come here?” A
s time went on those experienced veterans would come back to help with the new recruits and to improve themselves.
From this it was obvious that those who have themselves conquered stammering make the best coaches to help others who stammer.
Within five years, just by this organic process, regions were established in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Holland, Germany, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, the United States/Canada, Mexico, India, the Middle East (Dubai) and Turkey.
For more information on the McGuire Programme, go online to https://www.mcguireprogramme.com/en
Stuttering: The facts
Stuttering – also sometimes referred to as stammering – is a relatively common speech problem in childhood, which can persist into adulthood.
Stuttering is when you repeat sounds or syllables – such as saying “mu-mu-mu-mummy” – or you make sounds longer – for example, “mmmmmmummy” – or a word gets stuck or doesn’t come out at all.
Stammering varies in severity from person to person, and from situation to situation. Someone might have periods of stammering followed by times when they speak relatively fluently.
There are two main types of stammering, known as developmental stammering (the most common type of stammering; it occurs in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing rapidly) and acquired or late-onset stammering. (relatively rare and occurs in older children and adults as a result of a head injury, stroke or a progressive neurological condition)
Stammering is more common in boys than girls. Differences in brain development between the sexes might make boys more vulnerable to speech and language difficulties.
Genes are also thought to play a role. Around two in every three people who stammer have a family history of stammering, which suggests the genes a child inherits from their parents might make them more likely to develop a stammer.
Famous people with a stutter include actresses Nicole Kidman and Emily Blunt, Noel Gallagher, actors Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Ed Sheeran, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin, as well as King George VI, whose struggles were portrayed by Colin Firth in the award-winning film The King’s Speech.